Navigating Cannes: A Personal Diary by Filmmaker Christina Beck
FADE IN: Cannes Day 1
I arrive a day before the festival starts and as the taxi makes it’s way down the narrow, winding streets into Cannes the afternoon sun glistens on the Mediterranean Sea. A red carpet is literally spread out before me when I enter the palais to check in. My short film is in the market and I am naively here to raise money for my first feature. I’m excited, hopeful and ready to make a deal. While waiting in line to get my badge, I make eye contact with a cute French guy sporting a wildly dated ponytail. He offers to give me a ride to my hotel, a complete stranger but for some reason I felt safe. As we walk down to the underground parking the smell of his cologne was intoxicating in a sorta aromatherapy/hippie kind of way.
The sun is slowing setting as we drive a long side of the sparking sea front. I am oddly relaxed looking out through his dusty windshield as if I have been here before and then suddenly he makes a sharp right turn and my heart sinks as we drive further and further away from the shimmering sea. “Are you sure this is the right way?” He nods his head, “yes”. I booked this hotel online and basically it’s a million miles away from Cannes proper. We pull up to the hideous gray box built in the 1980s with tiny prison size windows and smokey hallways. I try to speak with the receptionist to cancel my reservation, get my money back? No deal, she is rude and tells me it’s not possible! A phrase I end up hearing a lot…
My cute French guy says something to her in French; she looks at me, looks back at him, looks at her coworker then nods her head “NO!”. He shrugs his shoulders and in broken English says to me, "I hate the French!"
Cannes Day 2
The next day I wake up early and take a cab into town, 50 euro, ouch. As I walk down the main street, The Croisette, all the major production companies have their banners spread proudly over their in-town hotel balconies. Cannes is a zoo! The streets are overcrowed with people sporting anything from tuxedos to speedos. It’s a very surreal scene as tourist, paparazzi, executives and movies stars all inhabit this small space and did I mention I came on my own? It’s fine, I’m good, these are my people. I see the logos from my favorite foreign production companies and boldly make my way through the door. No, I don’t have an appointment? I’m here from Los Angeles…I’m American!
As I go in and out of hotel suites and offices everyone is busy doing business, I can’t get anyone’s attention, let alone get a meeting to save my life! Did I mention I don’t speak French? Totally worn out from being ignored, I buy a baguette and sit across the street from the hotels. Amazing people watching but who cares? I’m here to make a deal! I find myself in survival mode and need to get online so I quickly flash my festival badge, dash into The Majestic hotel lobby and try to look like I actually belong there. While opening my Macbook, full bars pop up, yay! I try to check my e-mail and then a message scrolls across the bars, “It ain’t free bitch.” I quickly close my laptop, look around, walk outside and fade back into the maddening crowd.
Cannes Day 3
It’s a new day, I’m back on the Croisette and I’m going to get some meetings if it kills me. Well, it’s four hours later; my feet are killing me and still no meetings. I figured out that The Carlton has free Wi-Fi without the snide remarks so I set up my makeshift office but end up e-mailing friends back home, choking back tears as movie stars glide by like a live action wax museum. Here comes Helena Bonham Carter with no makeup, dirty hair and wearing her bathrobe, good for her? Lonely has taken on a whole new meaning and I fear that coming to Cannes was a big mistake. Did I mention before I left LA, my father became homeless; my mother gave me a check for $200 that bounced and I’ve borrowed money from everyone I know to actually get here but this is my Rocky! Against all odds, a movie about a woman who cuts herself and finally finds love will be next year's Sundance breakout hit! Back in my creepy, smoky, prison vibe hotel I watch some bad French television, eat a chocolate croissant and cut my hair on camera. I brought my old Sony Hi-8 and I’ve been shooting footage of myself throughout this trip reciting Ophelia’s monologue from Hamlet, Act III scene I. For some strange reason this is keeping me company and somewhat sane? I call a friend in London leaving her a weepy voicemail then fall asleep.
Cannes Day 4
I am now reduced to taking the bus into town with my 2006-heavy laptop stuffed in my backpack. The bus is crowded with locals who are not happy with the tourists, they actually hate us and it’s a mixed bag because the festival is a huge moneymaker for them and yet they have to put up with the entitled, annoying and desperate energy the movie business attracts. As I get off the bus and make my way through the crowed, noisy streets I stop by Le Grand Palais to use the restroom. The large building has many levels, my short film "Slice" is actually playing down stairs in the “short film corner” It’s basically the basement where you can go into a tiny box and request a viewing, like a peep show without the nakedness. I then somehow make my way into the press lounge, free Wi-Fi and an amazing view of the Mediterranean Sea.
There are journalists from all over the world hunched over, franticly writing stories and taking on mobiles. I keep getting waves of loneliness while being surrounded by so many people, it would be nice to just talk to someone. My phone vibrates, thank God! My London friend calls back and says “enjoy the South of France, just have fun!” No, sorry, I can’t, I came here to meet people and get my movie made! She kindly listens to me rant then gives me her agent's number and says he’s coming to Cannes later, give him a call. I leave her agent a message and after e-mailing numerous production companies I actually manage to get a few appointments. It seems that everyone has a full slate; eyes glaze over when I talk about the female protagonist and one guy literally stopped me in the middle of my pitch saying his other appointment just arrived.
Wildly defeated and beyond bitter, I stumble back onto the Croisette like the rest of the cattle. I whip out my camera and start shooting my Ophelia monologue...the ultimate selfie before there were selfies...and end up back in front of Le Grand Palais. The red carpet is regal but getting a bit worn, like me. I need a break, not just a show business break but literally a Cannes Time Out! I duck into a screening of Andrea Arnold’s first feature, Red Road. Her incredible short film "Wasp" played in the Focus on Female director’s program with one of my shorts at The American Cinematheque. Okay, this woman does not mess around! I am blown away by how she brings us into a world so intimate and real that for 113 minutes I forgot I was in France, in Cannes; I couldn’t tell you my own name. While on the bus back to my shit hotel I felt humbled, in a daze and yet empowered to the kind of storytelling that excites me, fuck all these executives, movie stars and people who don’t get “it”!
Cannes Day 5
I hitchhike into town with the high-8, evening wear & heels stuffed in my backpack. Did I mention I'm almost out of money? I meet up with Rex, a guy who directed me in a staged play version of Baby Doll years ago. Rex comes to Cannes every year, knows everybody and has kindly taken me to a party. In an instant, it’s a totally different city, people are nice and as we walk into the party I see my French ponytailed friend drinking champagne, he gives me the thumbs up. A bodyguard with some secret service style headgear approaches me and says, “Come take a picture with Bruce.” Bruce who? He points to Bruce Willis; Rex nods for me to do it. I am suddenly blinded by flashbulbs as “Bruce” holds out his hand to me. "Hi, I’m Bruce." Okay, This is ridiculous. My cell phone rings, hang on Bruce, it’s the agent.
My friend’s agent from CAA invites me to have dinner with him at his hotel. The Hotel du Cap. This is the place where all the heavy hitters stay, Leo, Harvey etc. He tells me the kitchen closes at ten, can I make it? It’s 8:48, Can I make it? I’m there, finally a proper meeting! I say goodbye to Rex, Bruce and the gang, quickly change in The Carlton’s bathroom and hit the Croisette for a cab! Did I mention, there is only ONE Cab Company in the whole of Cannes? This is the local’s version of payback; every taxi stand is packed with people waiting in cues. I plead with the concierge but he says to me “Mademoiselle, it is not possible”! The French love to say that, but mister, it has to be possible, it is my only REAL meeting!
The Hotel du Cap is miles away and there is not a cab in sight. Completely defeated, I call the agent and get his voicemail. “I’m so sorry, I’m not going to be able to make it”….when out of nowhere, a cab appears! Wait, wait! Taxi!!! I literally jump in front of the car, a man gets out and it’s Tom Berenger! Tom brushes past me as I lean into the window using the few French words I know until the driver motions for me to get in! Merci, merci! The seat is still warm from Mr. Berenger's American buns.
As we drive away from the crowded, crazy Croisette, I am oddly relaxed heading into the dark night for what seems like a very long ride and I only hope I have enough money to pay him. The Hotel du Cap is surrounded by calm trees and situated on an enormous cliff and while walking up the stairs to the lobby there was this Cinderella vibe getting out of the taxi as the French sea breeze kissed my cheeks.
The CAA agent greets me with a warm bear hug and we stroll down a pebble-stoned path that I recognize from a Chanel ad. The moon glistens on the aquamarine water and for the first time since I arrive I actually take a deep breath. He introduces me to his friends, Alfonso Cuaron and Alejandro Gonzalez, this is Christina Beck, she’s a filmmaker! Okay, finally this is getting fun.
We have an amazing dinner looking out over the Mediterranean Sea and the CAA agent listens to my pitch and God bless him, my whole life story, he gets “it”! This poor, kind man gets an earful until the kitchen closed. The CAA agent gives me his card, puts me in a cab and as I sit in the backseat driving down the hill I feel different, heard, seen and dare I say, hopeful. I think about my homeless father in LA and my mother out of touch and alone and I realize that making movies to me is not about being a star, it is about telling stories that can change our perceptions and create a world where anything IS possible!
Both of my parents have since passed. I made my feature film, Perfection, I’m in development for my 2nd feature, Expecting Grace and with the help from the CAA agent we will be shooting in the South of France sometime next year!
BTW, I had just enough money to pay for the taxi… here is my ultimate selfie short, The Ophelia Project.
Christina Beck began her career as a teenager acting in such cult films as Suburbia, The Boys Next Door and Dudes, all directed by Penelope Spheeris. One of the few women accepted into Fox Searchlight’ s new directors program Searchlab, she directed, wrote and starred in the short film version of her feature film script, "Slice", which screened in Cannes. The American Cinematheque screened her short, "So Hot For You" in the Focus on Females directors program along with Miranda July, Sofia Coppola and Andrea Arnold’s early work.
Christina ran the festival circuit with her debut feature film, PERFECTION where she won Best Actor and Best Narrative feature at the Oxford Film Festival and screened at the San Francisco International Women’s Film Festival, the USA Film Festival in Dallas, Texas, The Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood, CA, the Rio Cinema in London, and others.
Her upcoming projects include, Dig Me, a retro sex comedy set in Los Angeles, and Expecting Grace, a dark romantic comedy set in France. Christina is based in Los Angeles and teaches Absolutely Independent, a film seminar! For bookings and more: info...Perfectionthemovie@gmail.com